They come from all quarters: music, books, films, TV, education, journalism, and real life. People assume the latest trends, the latest fads influence a work, but that’s probably not true. Example, while my novel Transfixion was called, “The Hunger Games meets The Walking Dead,” by Anime Reporter, neither series influenced the novel, at all.
I’ll tell you what did influence the book.
I wanted a damaged main character with psychological trauma that can be felt. When I think about the effects of war on children, the Russian film Come and See springs to mind. The protagonist is a rural eastern European boy whose village is bombed by the Nazis and then invaded. The boy is driven to madness, and he must join the resistance to stop the genocidal advance of the psychotic SS division. For a time he is deaf, although I can’t recall if this passes. This film influenced the Kaylee Colton story.
Another strong influence was The Road Warrior, a siege film set in the Australian outback. As the oil refinery is surrounded by the dregs of the wasteland, so too is Jefferson High School surrounded by an overwhelming military force that none understand. At the front gate is a school bus, too. The action sequence with the fuel tanker truck also somewhat harkens back to the Road Warrior film. Vehicles are unaffected by Transfixion’s signal weapon. So there needed to be highly kinetic usage of them in order to plausibly fill out the world.
Kaylee Colton cannot be sure if she sees her mother’s ghost. Is the ghost real or only a figment of her damaged psyche? There are many stories where characters can’t be trusted to know what’s real and what isn’t. Kaylee’s perceptions reflect situations such as in The Sixth Sense, where a psychologist believes he is helping a troubled boy, but the reality is quite a bit different, and reversed. In Angel Heart a character chases a killer, only to realize that it was himself all along. Also Black Swan showed an unreliable, mentally unstable character who cannot discern fantasy from reality.
There are many other instances where young people are under siege, and they have to mature quickly in order to survive, such as in Red Dawn or even Lord of the Flies. I wrote a previous screenplay in the zombie genre where a young teen girl is the protagonist. That script and the Transfixion book have one thing in common that isn’t obvious: my daughter. She’s a scrapper, a fighter, and she doesn’t back down. That’s real life. So, naturally she fit as a fictionalized heroine in all sorts of fantastic situations.
She’s also a book junkie, so check that one off the list. Natrually Kaylee Colton recalls crucial information from the plethora of YA novels she’s read. I’ve personally learned useful tactical military advice from reading fiction. Authors love to grab the best combat nuggets and insert them. Fiction is like a filtering mechanism to pan for gold and just snatch the shiny bits.
The main metaphor of the Transfixion book is a weaponized form of propaganda: the ability to steal minds. In this case it’s instant rather than prolonged. Mesmerizing people to fleece them, Manchurian Candidates, and the ability to simply control others, are long staples in paranoid conspiracy type fiction.
The power to get over on others and play them like puppets is a concept rich in dramatic possibilites. It leads to a good/bad dichotomy, as we viscerally reject the idea of having our actions controlled by someone else. There is no clearer way of establishing what freedom is than to simply take away one’s capacity for it. This is at the heart of the narrative.
Further, liberty is not a simple matter. It is a larger struggle against the dark, often mysterious forces that seek to extinguish it. Freedom requires an awakening as well as sound judgment. Alternatives need to be weighed and thought through, perhaps to their logical conclusions.
Propaganda seeks the opposite. Propaganda, say television commercials, encourage decisions without thought. Buy without bothering to check out what’s in it, where it comes from, or what the side effects are. Propaganda is a malicious assault on higher thinking, and it offers an easy escape from that hard work of learning and knowing. Just let someone else do your thinking for you, perhaps a paid “expert,” and you’ll be “cool.” Accepting propaganda without question is a slippery slope indeed.
A final major influence on the book remains, one that readers will recognize as omitted. The end of the novel, the climax, echoes something from the real world. I will not reveal what it is, and so you’ll have to find out on your own. But no, Transfixion has nothing at all to do with Hunger Games, Walking Dead, Divergent or the rest. These are just some recent expressions of certain strands of thought.
Conflicts in the present and in the future will persist, and science fiction authors seek to bring a level of analysis and enlightenment to bear on them. That’s hopefully what I have achieved with my own little addition.
J. Giambrone is the author of Transfixion, now available at Amazon.